The Brooklyn Nets are undefeated!
In their first official game at the Barclays Center, after a disappointing but necessary postponement of the Nets-Knicks game that was supposed to kick off the season, the Nets stepped up and beat the Toronto Raptors 107-100.
I did not have the chance to catch the game at the Barclays Center. Instead I got to enjoy it at Der Schwarze Kölner, one of the many bars near the arena that were all too happy to have a hometown sports game on the TV. The sound wasn't on, but as David Stern formally welcolmed "Brooklyn, USA to the NBA," I could still tell there was a new energy brewing within the arena. Jay-Z and Beyonce were definitely not the only fans in the sold-out arena who were amped up for the occassion.
As a New Jersey native, I had wondered if there would be a sense of nostalgia mixed in with my anxious anticipation for a Brooklyn sports team. All in all, I was happy to see the team's embrace of the new–though I would take the old mascot, Sly the Fox, over the new "BrooklyKnight" any day. The BrooklyKnight was introduced by being dropped into the arena dangling from a wire, and looked more like someone in a makeshift Iron Man costume than a sports team's mascot.
But of course mascots don't dictate a team's success. That job is left to the players, and seeing the Nets introduced, it reminded me of how much of a roster overhaul the team made in the offseason. Only six players remain from last season's roster, and two of them had only played a total of ten games in the season.
The differences between rosters, however, was plain to see in a number of good ways. The pace was faster than last season, and the shots were smarter. There were also many more hustle plays than I've seen in any Nets game in recent memory, especially from Deron Williams. Last year, it was frustrating seeing Deron–an undeniable superstar–moping through some games, clearly unenthusiastic about his teammates and the state of things in New Jersey. It's amazing what being excited to play for your team can do for your intensity.
Ultimately, the Nets just looked like a better team. Sure, there are things to work on, especially defense. The Nets were down after giving up 35 points in the first quarter, and the Raptors' new point guard Kyle Lowry seemed to be having his way with Brooklyn for most of the game. But the Nets pulled through and regained the lead, impressively enough not with their starting line but with a stellar second unit led by C.J. Watson and Marshon Brooks. The score tightened up towards the end of the game, but Brook Lopez sealed the deal with a much needed and-one layup with just over a minute left.
The Raptors won't be one of the top teams in the league this year, but they're certainly not the afterthought that they (or for that matter, the Nets) were last year either. Opening night was a solid win for the Nets, even if it wasn't the rivalry reignitor they were hoping for against the Knicks.
The Nets have their next game at home again tomorrow night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. I hope that as the season goes on, people get more and more interested in the games themselves, and not just in the novelty of having a sports team in the borough. At the bar, there was a only handful of people closely watching the game, though the patrons did clap in unison once the final buzzer rang. If the Nets keep up their solid play, I think there will be even more reason to cheer for Brooklyn.
Some other notes on the game:
- Joe Johnson looked a little rusty coming into the game and had a few sloppy turnovers, but I assume that'll wear off as the season continues.
- I really like the two point guard combo that Avery runs with Deron and C.J. He ran plays like that last season with Deron and Jordan Farmar (no longer with the Nets), but I think they've gotten an upgrade with C.J. Watson, who's a far better playmaker than Farmar.
- Marshon had a rough preseason, so it was good to see him make a strong contribution off the bench.
- Brook Lopez will always be criticized about not getting enough rebounds for a 7-footer, so having only five rebounds in the season opener probably won't silence those critics. However, as long as they have guys like Reggie Evans coming off the bench for 13 rebounds in 16 minutes, you won't hear me complaining too much.
As always, feel free to continue the conversation with me on Twitter @mgelberg.